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When Garfield football coach Mike Moser and his wife were throwing around possible names for their youngest daughter, they tossed “Lauren” up for consideration.
Their oldest daughter, Megan, a fan of Garfield three-time state champion Lauren Jones, said, “Yes, we have to name her Lauren.”
It wasn’t Jones’ three state discus titles that prompted Megan, a young softball player, to say that. Those hadn’t happened yet. It was Jones’ role on the Garfield eighth-grade softball team.
“From that point on, (Megan) started hanging up their clippings,” Mike Moser said. “The name Lauren came up and I said, ‘I know a couple Laurens and I got no problem with that name at all.’ (It’s) not after Lauren, but in a sense, (it is) a little bit.”
Lauren Moser became a big Lauren Jones fan, herself. At one Garfield football game, Jones, taking a picture with the Moser family, picked her fellow Lauren up off the ground. After, a Moser relative came up to Jones and told the Garfield senior she was stunned the youngest Moser had allowed Jones to pick her up.
Such is the power of a role model.
“She’s a special person,” Moser said. “You don't get to come across too many people like that. If that's who my kids are looking up to, I think they’re looking the right way.”
Indeed, Lauren Moser sometimes plays the “Lauren Jones game,” where she runs around the house, flexes her muscles, shoots a basketball (Jones was a star guard for the G-Men) and tosses a softball (she was also a star pitcher). For Halloween, she wanted to dress up as Lauren Jones, but Moser told her he wasn’t sure how they could pull off that costume.
“She puts on her socks and pulls them up really high and says, ‘I’m Lauren Jones,’” Moser said. “She does about four or five different events, half the decathlon, and calls herself Lauren Jones.”
As the state championships mounted, with Jones headed to Oklahoma to compete in track and field, the chances to be a role model grew. Parents of undersized throwers told Jones how the G-Men senior, an undersized thrower herself, had inspired their kids.
“I never know what to say, because I'm just so flattered all the time,” Jones said. “I'm smiling from ear to ear.”
While Jones was winding up her final season with the G-Men, the Pirates girls basketball team made its first district championship game appearance. Burgundy filled row after row of Austintown Fitch's enormous gymnasium. The screams that welcomed the Pirates' starting lineup to the court were deafening. Within that crowd, Southeast superintendent and longtime basketball coach Bob Dunn explained, were a number of little eyes.
“The more success they have, the more important it is for them to be good role models,” Dunn said. “We'd talk a lot about those younger kids. Their eyes are watching them. They're watching how they handle adversity and how they handle success. The more talented you are, the more lights are on you, the more important it is to be that great role model.”
Few things last forever in sports. Games, seasons and careers come to an end. Banners and legacies linger, and Crestwood volleyball and girls basketball coach Brittany Dye said the latter is just as important as the former.
Dye, who played three sports for the Red Devils and is now their head coach for two varsity sports at her alma mater, said she tells her girls that often. Her team has four priorities, including “the need to have their own personal code of conduct.”
There are the easy parts of being a role model, the ones most people would love to try, like when Dye's players get to sign autographs.
“When those little campers come to high-school games and watch them and go to them and speak to them, it's a local celebrity,” Dye said. “You can't put it on the same level as LeBron James, but when you're 5 years old, that's what a high-school player is.”
The harder part, particularly at 16 and 17, is continually being an athlete and person worth emulating.
“We talked a lot about how there are always little eyes on you,” Dunn said. “You've got to do it right in the classroom, on the playing field and you want to do it right anytime you're out in public.”
The need is there, Dye said, because kids don't stop watching.
“It's the hustle plays (kids) remember, when (players) are diving on the floor, taking a charge or having a big block,” Dye said. “They're also watching the bad behavior. If we mouth off to the refs, kids are going to see that. That's why it's so important not to.”
Dunn's programs, he coached the Southeast boys for 14 years and the Southeast girls for six years, embraced that responsibility. The Pirates allowed players of all ages — varsity, junior varsity, kids and alumni — into the locker room for the team's pregame, halftime and postgame.
“It's just a neat experience. You think of a locker room as sort of a sacred place, but we think about it as a place that's inclusive,” Dunn said. “It was important for those players to realize it's bigger than just them. They have the young eyes looking at them, and the alumni (looking for them) to continue the tradition of excellence.”
For a young kid, in particular, being in the Southeast girls basketball locker room was an awfully exciting experience.
“They just love the thrill of getting to see a Danielle Norquest getting ready for a big game,” Dunn said. “It's a big deal and we stress how important it is.”
Anybody can be a role model for anyone. Young girls look up to male student-athletes just like they do female student-athletes, and vice versa. Jones listed Olympic gymnast John Orozco as a role model, for example, but sometimes it's even more special to be able to look up to someone of the same gender. Dye, who said she admired all of her high-school coaches for different reasons, clicked in a special way with Wanda Hoffman, her volleyball coach, first as a person and, more recently, as a fellow mother.
“We became so close that we just started finishing each other's sentences,” Dye said. “I remember Wanda always brought her girls to the gym and she basically almost gave birth on the court. I kind of want to emulate that.”
Not literally, of course.
For Jones, she found her role model, Orozco, particularly important when she tore her ACL in seventh grade. Orozco rallied from a ruptured Achilles to become a national champion, which inspired Jones.
“If he can do that, there's no way I can't come back and be stronger in everything I do,” Jones said.
Perhaps she thought of Orozco several months ago, when the senior was plagued by illness at the start of basketball season. With golf ball-sized welts on her legs and feeling far from 100 percent, Jones kept fighting, ultimately catching fire in the postseason to help lead the G-Men to their second regional title in three seasons.
Orozco inspired Jones. Who knows how many young kids Jones will inspire, with her ability to overcome injury and sickness, as well as her ability to win three state discus titles as an undersized thrower out of tiny Garrettsville.
“No matter what you go through, it's possible,” Jones said. “No matter how small of a town you come from, you can always go big. You can get as much as you want, as long as you work for it.”
The good news, Dye said, is it's easy for her high school athletes to understand the importance of being good role models — because they were in the opposite shoes not long ago.
“(My players) talk a lot,” Dye said. “They remember, when they were younger, who they watched. The generations just turn over and over again.”